“Man is what he believes” — Anton Chekhov
The power of belief is a phenomenal force — one which, chances are, you’re not tapping into nearly enough. Whilst using belief to uplift, bring hope and motivation to your life will be more familiar to you, did you know that the sheer force of belief can also create real physical change in an instant?
Research has suggested that attending regular religious services may improve your immune system, lower your blood pressure and add years to your life. Studies have also shown that just thinking you’ve received treatment is often just as effective, in some cases more, as having treatment. The underlying factor that both these examples share is belief.
In 2004 a US radiologist at the Mayo Clinic called Dr David Kallmes, decided to conduct an experiment after noticing something very unusual. For years he performed Vertebroplasty operations to heal broken spines by injecting a type of medical cement, which was successful in relieving pain and getting people walking and exercising again. But he realised that even when the operation failed (for example, the cement was injected in the wrong place) patients would still get better.
Out of 131 patients who took part half had the real treatment, whilst the other half had a ‘sham surgery’. They were still wheeled into the operating theatre and given an anaesthetic but weren’t injected with the spinal cement.
Incredibly he found that all the patients, regardless of whether they had the operation or not, showed the same amount of pain relief and increased mobility. Just believing they had been healed was enough to heal them physically.
Far from wishful thinking, belief is a fundamentally important factor in changing your reality.
In another case cited in National Geographic, a man who had been suffering from early-onset Parkinson’s (for which there currently is no cure) saw such marked improvements from taking part in the trial of a new treatment that doctors were astonished. When it was discovered that the treatment was ineffective after all, his doctor was shocked to realise that this particular patient — who’d shown near-miraculous recovery — hadn’t even been given the treatment, he had the sham surgery.
An important part of a placebo being effective seems to be the ‘staging’ around it, aka how much belief you can invest in the situation. So in the case of sham surgeries, the whole construct played out exactly as if it were real: the operating theatre, the doctors, the check-ups afterwards. It all played a part in making the healing more believable.
Placebos have even been proven effective when people knew they were taking them. A study published in 2010 by a professor of medicine at Harvard found that despite telling research participants in an irritable bowel study that they were taking placebo pills, they still reported significant relief in symptoms. Although it seems strange, it’s very relevant that the patients were told that placebos often have incredibly healing effects, so they still believed in their potential for healing.
If our belief alone can heal us, then it stands to reason that our beliefs can also harm us.
Just as powerful as placebos have been proven to be, so have the effects of so-called “nocebos”. Negative expectations and conditioning over whether a drug or treatment will work have been shown to affect the outcome.
It’s estimated that up to 97% of reported pharmaceutical side effects are not caused by the drug itself but by nocebo effects.
These remarkable cases — and many more — strongly suggest that our potential power to self-heal is far greater than we are currently tapping into.
Beliefs directly impact your biochemistry in a way that means every cell in your body is aware of your thoughts.
Morris Goodman: Miracle Man sustained such horrendous injuries after an aeroplane crash that he wasn’t expected to survive. The only bodily function he could perform was to blink his eyes. Yet, to the marvel of the medical world, he not only survived but was so determined to recover that he gave doctors a date for when he would walk out of the hospital by (one which he achieved).
Motivational stories like this show that the brain and body will follow the plan that belief and intentions set out for it with the mind.
If your thoughts and beliefs can directly affect the material world around you — i.e. your own body — then this gives a glimpse into the incredible untapped powers of belief in improving all areas of our lives.
If you are setting limits for yourself through your beliefs, then that is the ceiling you are going to reach.
If you believe that people like you will never make a million dollars, that you could never become an expert in your industry or launch a successful business in a crowded marketplace, then chances are you never will. It is as simple — yet powerful as that.
This is where the power of coaching, self-inquiry, and self-awareness comes in — to challenge those beliefs and assumptions that you have most likely carried around, unbeknown to you, for the majority of your life.
Every morning write down what you will believe today. Every evening write down how you choose to see the world and yourself in it. Bring awareness in every moment that you can to strengthen the beliefs you want to have and disempower the ones that are getting you nowhere.
In a world where belief alone shapes reality, it’s vital to remember that we get to choose our beliefs, so we should always strive to make sure that they serve us.